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Farm and Food News 3/2/12

Conservation Practices Show Dual Benefit in Maryland

The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently reported their findings related to the benefits of farmers utilizing cover crops. This year, the practice was used on 429,818 acres of farmland, resulting in better soil quality and reduced agricultural runoff.

A County’s Oral History of Farmland Protection

In the early 1960s, predictions of explosive population growth in California’s Napa Valley led to the founding of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve. A recent book, “Oral Histories of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve,” captures some of the voices who first launched the farmland protection movement in the region.

Documenting Life on the Farm

Four farmers in western North Carolina have been documenting their daily lives since July 2011 through a series of online videos. Part of a longer film-in-progress, the project of Carolina Farm Credit, is offering the farmers’ stories to connect food and community.

New York State Funds Agricultural Development Projects

In an effort to boost economic development in New York, the Empire State Development agency challenged communities last year to compete for funding through its Open for Business Program. Of the $785 million in grants awarded in 2011, $4.3 million was split among 14 agriculture projects, including an Agricultural Enterprise Park on Long Island.

California Community Continues Farmland Protection Legacy

For the past three decades, the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust has battled development pressure to help protect more than 750 acres of farmland surrounding the city of Brentwood in California. In praise of the organization’s work—accounting for the most easements from any community in the state—one farmer explained, “My father, Stanley, was a farmer. I’m a farmer and my family will continue to farm here.”

House Agriculture Committee Announces Hearings

This week, House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced field hearings taking place across the nation in preparation for the next farm bill. The first hearing will take place on March 9 in Saranac Lake, New York, with the series closing April 20 in Dodge City, Kansas.

Calling All Food Warriors!

Real Time Farms just announced the summer 2012 application opening for the Food Warrior internship program. Running from May 1 to August 20, Real Time Farms is looking for help in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Providence and Washington, D.C.

Upcoming Food and Farming Conferences

As part of Chicago’s Good Food Conference, the Good Food Financing Fair on March 15 will provide an opportunity for farmers and foodies to meet one-on-one with investors, economic development specialists, and other strategic partners to develop relationships and potentially work together.

The first Appalachian Food & Agriculture Summit will take place March 23 to 25 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Farmers,  students  and interested community members are invited to register.

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Farm and Food News 2/24/12

Secretary Vilsack Calls for New Farmer Support

The 150th Agricultural Outlook forum took place in Virginia this week. In his remarks, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appealed to the need to support the next generation of farmers: “America will need more farmers, ranchers and growers,” he said. “This farm bill is probably more significant to young people in America considering agriculture for their future.”

Living the Four Seasons Harvest

For decades, Eliot Coleman has defied the elements of winters in Maine to run his profitable and sustainable Four Season Farm. Last year, the farm grossed $120,000 from crops grown on 1.5 acres of land.

Massachusetts Conferences Targets Beginning Female Farmers

From March 22 to 23, a conference for women who want to learn more about whole farm planning will take place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Breakout session topics include animal health, marketing and making the farm-to-table connection.

Deadline Approaching for Conservation Grant Application

As part of its Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting proposals through March 2 for water quality credit trading projects. Our video on water quality credit trading, developed along with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, helps demonstrate the economic benefits to farmers with this approach.

Sharing Fresh Produce with Food Pantries

In its third year of operation, the Culpeper Volunteer Farm in Virginia is aiming to produce 60,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to be donated to area food pantries. The 97-acre farm is run by approximately 1,000 people. In similar news, farmers of any size operation can match with food pantries throughout the nation through AmpleHarvest.org.

Match.com for Farmland?

Like many farmland linking programs around the country, California FarmLink is a busy matchmaker between aging farmers looking to sell or lease their land and beginning farmers looking to start new farm enterprises. Last fall, we published our own guide to assist with land transitions in Connection: Farmland ConneCTions.

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Farm and Food News 2/17/12

More Than a Dozen New Farms Protected in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board announced an additional 1,470 acres of farmland protected across 14 farms. Since the program started in 1988, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.1 billion to safeguard 459,007 acres on 4,243 farms.

Conference to Address Community Farms and Food in Hudson Valley

On February 25, farm and food partners in Columbia County, New York, will host the first Farming Our Future conference. The meeting will engage farmers, institutions and consumers in discussion about how to boost local food, farms and communities.

Sharing Stories of Michigan Farmers

Taste the Local Difference of Northwest Michigan has recently launched a new series of photos and stories about local farmers. New stories are added each week.

Small Farm Summit Coming to New York

The New York Small Farm Summit is fast approaching on February 29. The summit seeks to increase the visibility of small farmers, encourage local collaboration among regions and prioritize emerging opportunities to enhance small farms in New York and the Northeast.

Wisconsin Job Seekers Ask “Why Ag?”

A new online service is helping to match Wisconsin residents with appropriate jobs in agriculture. WhyAg.com features a skills-to-job match, as well as links to educational and training opportunities.

Farm-to-Institution Workshops in Virginia

Two workshops—February 28 and March 27—will address the challenges and opportunities involved in offering local, healthy food at Virginia hospitals, schools, nursing homes and corporate cafeterias.

USDA Launches New Beginning Farmer Website

USDA’s National Agricultural Library, in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, recently launched Start2farm.gov, an online portal that provides assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. The website includes links to training, financing, technical assistance and other support services, as well as successful case studies about new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

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Farm and Food News 2/10/12

A Farm and Food Education

At Pine Tree Elementary in Avon, Indiana, students are learning more than reading, writing and arithmetic. The school’s Agri-Lesson Director, Angie Williams, is helping to connect students more directly with farms and food through a monthly “Ag Day” and accompanying lessons on the important role that agriculture plays in the state.

Value-Added Grant Awardees Announced

On February 3, USDA announced the most recent recipients of its Value-Added Producer Grants. The total award amount of $40.2 million is the largest allotment for value-added producers in recent history.

Senate Agriculture Committee Announces Farm Bill Hearings

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has announced the committee’s farm bill hearing schedule for February and March.

CSA Brings Farm-To-College Connection

Tufts University has partnered with Enterprise Farms of South Deerfield, Massachusetts, to pilot an on-campus Community Supported Agriculture program. Though students have joined local CSAs in the past, this is the first time the university has had a program specifically designed to reach students, faculty and staff.

Rally Around Farms and Food in New York

There is still time to register for New York’s No Farms No Food® Rally on February 15 at the State Capitol in Albany. Help us urge state leaders to strengthen the farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York.

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A 2012 Farm Bill Almanac

Predictions for upcoming seasons are laid out each year in the pages of The Old Farmer’s Almanac — charting the sun, moon, tides and past weather records to forecast the year ahead. With that in mind, we’ve done some calculations of our own and gauged the temperature of discussions surrounding farm and food policy for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Should the stars align, here are our predictions for topics to anticipate during the farm bill reauthorization process this spring.

Deficits and Cuts

The national deficit continues to loom overhead and the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill will be dominated like few others this century by deficit pressure. Every section of the legislation will be affected, but by how much we do not know. However, we do know that the deal to increase the debt ceiling means the farm bill will be cut by about $15 to $16 billion as a result of automatic sequestration. These cuts will most likely be the starting point—and not the end point—for final numbers.

Safeguarding the Environment

For conservation, 2012 will be a year when climate and environmental issues establish new trends and challenges. Dramatic weather events in 2011 created highs and lows in American agriculture, and coming years will be no exception. The discussion will focus on how to make conservation programs more efficient while equipping farmers with conservation tools and programs to meet environmental challenges and regulatory burdens.

With conservation programs having already contributed more than $2 billion to the nation’s deficit reduction through appropriations cuts, we think the farm bill debate this spring should center on promoting conservation funding without the threat of additional cuts. Conservation programs are too valuable to lose now—and for our future.

The Future of Farm Support Programs

Caught up in the budget belt-tightening are proposals to alter farm support, or subsidy, programs. For the first time in two decades, it is likely that direct payments will be eliminated. What will replace them is unclear, but the debate is currently focused on the appropriate role of government in helping farmers address risk.

We believe that  new safety net programs must protect farms from risks they can’t control, while also minimizing the programs’ influence on the economic and environmental behavior of farmers. The debate will be vigorous but we believe it will be critical to creating a farm support system that works effectively for both farmers and consumers.

Who Will be Farming and Stewarding the Land?Woman farmer and child looking out of a barn

Now more than any time since the end of World War II, it’s important for the nation to have a serious discussion about the generational and gender shifts happening in American agriculture.

According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, there are more than five times as many farmers at age 65 and older as there are 35 and younger. As the overall farm population ages, the influence of female landowners is predicted to rise.— 70 percent of farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years, with women potentially ending up  owning most of it. While we face the critical question of how land will be transitioned, at the same time we see the rise of young adults looking to start careers in agriculture but facing challenges securing land and succeeding in farming.

It will be difficult for farm policy leaders to ignore the changing demographics in agriculture. We think changes in land ownership, land stewardship and the engagement of young and beginning farmers in agriculture should be part of the discussion as Congress addresses programs for farmland protection, farm viability, and conservation.

Strengthening America’s Farm and Food System

Lawmakers will need to look systematically at what rural development policy is supposed to do to help today’s rural America.

The 2012 Farm Bill can be a catalyst to help rural America by finding ways to stimulate new market opportunities for agriculture and further support for local and regional food systems. Consumer demand for local food continues to rise, and farm policy can play a critical role in helping farmers provide it.

A Healthier Nation

Public health and nutrition, and the intersection with agriculture, is currently at the forefront of national interest. Amid on-going conversations about public health and chronic diseases is a focus on the availability of fresh, healthy food.

The connection between healthier diets and agricultural production is very real and easy to see. The demand for healthy food opens markets for agricultural products and potentially  helps keep farmers farming. Less clear, but no less important, is the role that public health demands may play in   local and regional food systems. The next farm bill presents the opportunity to explore public health while also creating market opportunities for farmers. We think 2012 will be the beginning of a long term trend of a new public health constituent group in the farm bill.

The forecast for the 2012 Farm Bill will take the direction of real forces shaping farm and food policy. As discussions around the 2012 Farm Bill get underway in Washington, we’ll be asking supporters of America’s farms and food to learn more, speak up and be heard.

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Farm and Food News 2/3/12

From the Battlefield to the Farm Field

Around the country, an increasing number of opportunities are helping military veterans transition to civilian life through farm programs and apprenticeships. In San Diego, a retired Marine has trained about 60 people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan through the Veteran Sustainable Agriculture Training program. And 2012 TEDx Manhattan Challenge winner Howard Hinterthuer is running a similar initiative in Milwaukee to help veterans transition into food production.

Take Action to Protect North Carolina Conservation Funding

Due to an accelerated legislative timetable, Land for Tomorrow is urging North Carolina residents to contact members of the state’s General Assembly now to ask them to protect conservation funding.

Young Farmers to Gather in Michigan

From March 9 to 11, the Michigan Young Farmer Coalition is hosting a retreat for young farmers from across the state to gather and help strengthen the future of Michigan agriculture.

A Super Bowl at the Super Bowl

Centerplate, the NFL’s largest food and beverage vendor, has partnered with Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp to promote its new line of “Homegrown”-branded locally sourced concessions. The partnership will kick off this weekend with bowls of beef and pork chili at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Eight Former Secretaries of Agriculture to Convene

This week, USDA announced the commemoration of its 150th year by bringing together eight former secretaries of agriculture at the 2012 Agricultural Outlook Forum, February 23 to 24.

Addressing Unemployment through Agriculture

The Michigan Land Institute is seeking to lower the unemployment rate through farming. The organization recently kicked off a program that would help low-income families gain the tools and resources needed to start farming.

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Ideas on Farms and Food Come to the Big Apple

Growing concerns about access to locally grown foods, public health issues and the conservation of natural resources recently converged in New York City at this year’s TEDx Manhattan. Among a diverse group including farmers, chefs, educators, environmentalists and local food advocates, I joined in for a day of idea sharing around the concept of “Changing the Way We Eat.”

The "edible" TEDx logo.

The "edible" TEDx logo. (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

The backdrop of the Manhattan skyline was a surprisingly fitting frame for a discussion about farms and food. TEDx Manhattan was a discussion of ideas rooted in the value of connections between rural and urban people—whether young or old, foodies or environmentalists—and about finding better ways to protect farms and food across the country.

For Patty Cantrell, a journalist working to make the business case for local and regional food, new roads to new markets are not paved in asphalt. Rather, the creation of market opportunities for local food products starts with connecting people. “It’s about making our way back to each other,” she explained, “and moving forward as a result.” Cantrell pointed to the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Fair Food Matters as a model for empowering communities through food and for connecting people with the land that produces it.

The idea of community was a bit different for Fred Kirschenmann. A farmer in south central North Dakota who serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and as president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Kirschenmann appealed to the value of the land as a vital piece in the discussion about our food. “Soil is a vibrant, living community. A community of life,” he remarked. Using examples from challenging weather events of the past year, he warned of the pressures of environmental changes on soil that is continually slipping away.

Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org and Erica Goodman, American Farmland Trust

Enjoying a local food lunch with presenter Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

Whether discussing how to safeguard soil quality to discovering new ways to provide healthier food options in schools, an undertone of the day was the critical need to think about the future today.  Michelle Hughes, Director of GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project, connected the rapid loss of farmland to development with the need to cultivate new farmers. The New Farmer Development Project works with immigrant families in New York City to provide access to farmland and to assistance in finding local market opportunities. As Hughes explained, connecting the new farmers to land is making a positive impact on immigrant families and communities while keeping farmland viable and healthy.

The farm and food innovators throughout the audience were an energized community in themselves. I was even able to catch up with Cara Rosaen of Real Time Farms after her impassioned talk on empowering eaters and farmers. In the end, I left with a hopeful feeling. The lesson of the day: When it comes to the health of our lands, access to healthy food, and a viable future for farms, ideas are worth creating, developing and believing in as part of a community invested in a healthy future for us all.


About the author: Erica Goodman is the Communications Associate with American Farmland Trust.

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Farm and Food News 1/27/12

Future Faces of Farming

In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for 100,000 new farmers a year across the nation. In the foodshed surrounding Washington, D.C., a young generation of farmers—a diverse mix including educators, chefs and budding entrepreneurs—is rising to meet this challenge with the goal of strengthening the local farm and food system.

1,200 Acres of New York Farmland Protected

The Agricultural Stewardship Association of upstate New York recently announced the completion of a 1,200 acre conservation project on three farms in Rensselaer and Washington counties. Included in the project is the Hooskip Farm, which straddles the Vermont border and has protected land in both states.

Hospitals Across the Mid-Atlantic Commit to Buying Local

In Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, hospitals have been working to support local farmers, the local economy and healthier diets for their patients through the increased purchase of local foods. More than 40 institutions are regularly purchasing seasonal fruits and vegetables while nine have stepped up to also source meat and poultry locally. Existing campaigns, such as the “Buy Local Challenge” in Maryland, have helped to spur these new purchasing initiatives.

1,000 Pounds of Butter Warms Pennsylvania Home

Once an agricultural fair or farm show is over, what to do with a decorative butter sculpture? In Pennsylvania, a 1,000-pound sculpture was brought back to the farm and converted into biofuel through a mix digester.

Hawaii Introduces Farm to School Bill

Hawaii State Representative Cynthia Thielen recently introduced a bill that would permit schools throughout the state to purchase more food products grown or raised in the state. Rep. Thielen explained that the bill would support farmers economically while improving the health of students.

Future Farmers Answer Farm Bill Challenge

Officers of the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) answered a challenge from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to develop their own suggestions for the next farm bill. The organization, which focuses on school-based and extracurricular agricultural education, proposed recommendations in four categories: “Getting started in production agriculture; creating vibrant rural communities; who should care about agriculture and why; and planning for the future.”

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Farm and Food News 1/20/12

Farmers embrace conservation tillage

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are switching to conservation tillage at a fast pace. This increase in interest comes at a much needed time for farmers and the environment in California’s Central Valley. With a potential for reduced operating costs and improved soil composition, conservation tillage has many benefits.

Minnesota increases water conservation practices

The USDA, EPA, and state of Minnesota have come together to develop a new state conservation program that will protect rivers, streams and lakes by encouraging farmers to adopt conservation practices that reduce nutrient run-off and improve water quality.

Mayors discuss food policy

Food policy was among the topics discussed this week during the annual Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Mayor Menino of Boston heads the discussion of the Food Policy Task Force, covering topics from urban food policy  to SNAP benefits.

Bringing fair food access to you

Gus Schumacher, American Farmland Trust board member, discusses his passion for farming and fair food access. During his interview, he discusses the growth of farmers markets in our struggling economy and the volunteers who make them possible.

Renewable energy for farms

Alternative sources of energy are making their way onto farms. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Initiative (SARE) has been studying the best opportunities for renewable energy on farms, including solar, wind and fuels from animal waste.

Coventry Farmers Market pushes ahead successfully

The Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market is happy to announce that they have made it past another hurdle in their efforts to save their market. The difficulties of finding a new location after their lease was terminated have made it difficult to begin planning for their coming season.

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Farm and Food News 1/13/12

Funds Available for Farmland Protection in Maine

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced that nearly $1 million will be available this year in Maine for successful applicants for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection program. The state deadline is March 23 for 2013 funding. For more information on deadlines in other states, visit the NRCS website.

New York Dairies Benefitting from Yogurt Craze

An increased consumer demand for Greek yogurt is helping boost New York’s dairy economy. Over the last five years, yogurt production in the state has risen 60 percent, including a 40 percent hike in 2010.

Conference On Sustainable Food in Nebraska

The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society will host its annual Healthy Farms Conference on February 10 and 11 in Nebraska City. The agenda includes programs for adults and youth, including sessions on marketing, land transitions and local food.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Shares Outlook for Farm Bill

Kicking off this year’s American Farm Bureau convention was a keynote address from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who outlined the Obama administration’s priorities for the farm bill. Issues included changes to farm support programs, support for conservation and funding for research.

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